Friday, April 25, 2008

Rationing Redux

There has been quite a bit of news this week as to several food crises around the globe including Haiti. This Passover has seen a matzo shortage. Warehouse-type stores such as Costco and Sam's Club have begun limiting the amount of rice and/or flour a customer can buy at one time.

All the news this week about rising prices in gas and food made me think about food and gas rationing in American history. I don't have personal knowledge of the rationing during World War II, but I would hear stories from my great-grandparents, John Ralph Austin and Therese McGinnis Austin. During the war, they had the Grahamsville house as a summer home and it always had a "victory garden" which allowed them to avoid purchasing rationed food and subsist on what they grew and what my great-grandmother subsequently canned or preserved.

The tough part for them was gasoline rationing. It meant leaving a car up in the country and taking the train and/or bus and hoping some kind neighbor could pick you up. In addition, since my great-grandfather ran a garage in Manhattan, which certainly meant a dip in business. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a "garage" in Manhattan, here's the best way I can describe it: usually the garage was located in the lower levels of a high-rise and there would be at least one on each block. A car owner would rent a parking space and they would also have access to repairmen, someone to wash and clean the car, and to bring it "around front" for them when they needed it. Garages like this were very popular in the 1930s and 1940s.

What I do remember is the high cost of meat in the 1970s which led to Meatless Tuesdays and many meatless meals. Also there were gasoline shortages in the late 1970s better known as the energy crisis.

What do you remember about food and fuel rationing - either your personal experience or stories your parents or grand-parents told you? Do you also remember being told to "only take what you can finish" when at the dinner table? Did a relative admonish you as a child when you didn't want to finish your plate?


Kathryn Doyle said...

During WWII even hot dogs were rationed. The Nickles brothers - Brasides, John and Art ran the "Coney Island Lunch" in Middletown, New York, founded by their Greek immigrant father, Peter J. Nickles.

Even though demand exceeded supply, the brothers always held a few hot dogs in reserve for the Catholics who lined up just after midnight signaling the end of their Friday fast.

Linda said...

I remember the gasoline shortage of the 70's but not the meatless Tuesdays you mention. My grandmothers and my mother in law all survived the Great Depression and wasting food was a great offense to all three of them. They never got over being hungry and they never took food for granted as a result.

Apple said...

I have some ration books from WWII that my father saved. I remember well the odd/even gas lines of the 70's. Oh, for the good old days when I could afford to fill the tank!